Sunday, February 16, 2020

Alexi, The Dog and The Mule

​                   Alexi, The Dog and The Mule
                                      By Valerie L. Egar
            A long time ago, a boy named Alexi walked to the village market to sell two bags of wheat. His family was so poor they didn’t own a horse and cart to haul the wheat. He strapped the bags on his back and his knees buckled under the burden.
            “Get the best price you can,” his mother said. “Buy three laying hens with the money and we will have eggs to feed the family and not be hungry.”
            On his way to the market, Alexi met a man dragging a large dog tied to a rope. The dog was thin and grey around its muzzle. Alexi noticed the man’s cruel eyes and how the dog shied away from him.
            “Boy,” the stranger said, “Let me lighten your burden by trading this fine dog for whatever you are carrying on your back.”
            Alexi stopped. The dog looked at him hopefully and Alexi’s heart was touched. He remembered what his mother had told him. They needed laying hens, but perhaps not three. He would eat less, so they could get by with two. “One bag for the dog,” he said.
            The stranger agreed and was soon on his way with a bag of wheat. The dog pranced happily next to Alexi.
           Soon Alexi came upon a woman driving a cart hitched 

to an old mule. She whipped the mule to go faster, but the mule stumbled.  She looked at Alexi. “Boy, today’s your lucky day.  I will give you this fine mule and the cart for what you’re carrying on your back. You and that dog will ride like kings.”
            Alexi saw the mule was old and lame. The cart was little better than a plank with wobbly wheels, but Alexi felt sorry for the abused mule. He cut the bag of wheat from his back and handed it over.
Surely his mother would be angry. He had nothing to bring his family except a thin dog, a lame mule, and a rickety cart.  Alexi decided to spend the night in the woods to think about what he should do. He made a camp near a stream and gathered grass for the mule to eat. He shared his thin slice of bread and cheese with the dog.  Alexi lay on the cart, wishing the dog or mule would have magical powers like the animals in fairy tales. In those stories, animals always discovered treasures or gave good advice and the person who helped them was richly rewarded. Alexi sighed and patted the dog snuggled next to him. “It’s OK, boy,” he said. “Saving both of you from harm is reward enough.”
            In the middle of the night, Alexi woke with a start. He heard voices. “Stop cryin’ if you know what’s good for you.”  By the light of the moon, Alexi saw two men with a young boy.
            “Ha,” said the other. “ The King will pay a good ransom for you!”  The scoundrels had kidnapped the Prince! Alexi tried to think what to do.
           His dog howled, a mournful howl that sounded like a ghost.
            The men stopped. “What was that?”
            The mule brayed, and sounded like a host of demons.

           “These woods are haunted!”
            The frightened men looked around and the dog ran to one and bit him hard on the leg. The mule galloped to the other and kicked him so hard he fell over.  Alexi grabbed his rope and tied the two scoundrels up. He threw them on the cart and rode them into town with the frightened Prince sitting on his lap.
            When the King and Queen asked Alexi what he wanted, he asked for three good laying hens. They laughed and  gave the dog, mule and Alexi gold medals for bravery.  Alexi received rich farmland, a house large enough for his family and gold to keep them comfortable for many years.
Alexi continued to rescue animals that had hard lives. He never expected them to have magical powers or speak to him, even when the moon was full. That he made their lives easier with his kindness was reward enough for him.
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Copyright 2017 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied, reproduced or distributed without permission from the author.
Published October 1, 2017 Biddeford Journal Tribune (Biddeford, ME)

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Puppy Huxley, Chew, Chew, Chew!

                              Puppy Huxley, Chew, Chew, Chew!
                                                     By Valerie L. Egar

Layla lingered at the cage, gazing at the oversized puppy with black and golden fur who looked at her eagerly. One ear stood straight up and the other flopped down. He held his tail high in the air and it curled over his body like a question mark. “Are you sure he’s a puppy?” At five months old, the young dog weighed fifty pounds and stood tall as her school desk.
“Look how big his paws are. He hasn’t grown into them yet,” Dad said.
        “What kind of dog is he?” Layla asked.
The shelter’s adoption counselor smiled. “I’d guess a little collie, mixed with some golden retriever and maybe a hint of husky.”
“Sit,” Layla said. The dog sat. “Good boy, Huxley,” said Layla.
Layla nodded. “I saw the name in a book I read.”
 Huxley went home with his new family, but not before they stopped at the pet food store to buy puppy chow and a nice squeaky stuffed frog for Huxley to play with.
Huxley liked his new toy, but he was curious and had to find out how it made noise. He held it down with one paw and tore at it with his teeth. Soon the stuffing and the plastic squeaker were on the floor. He carried the unstuffed frog to Layla. “Oh, Huxley!” she sighed.
Huxley liked discovering new things to chew. Mom brought in bags of groceries. Huxley stuck his head in every bag when Mom wasn’t looking. He found a box of tea bags, carried it to his dog bed and chewed it open. Tea smelled nice, but Huxley didn’t want to eat it.
Dad hung pictures in his office and left the hammer on the floor. Huxley thought it looked a little like a bone. He carried it to his dog bed and chewed on the handle. Yuck! It didn’t have much flavor. Dad found the hammer decorated with tooth marks.
A bottle of water looked very interesting and it was easy to carry when Huxley grasped it by the top with his teeth. He carried it to his dog bed and gnawed on it. Eww! It made his bed wet.
The vacuum made too much noise. Huxley fixed it by chewing the electric cord off.
Magazines had wonderful scented paper perfume samples inside. Huxley loved how they smelled. Too bad he had to tear up the whole magazine just to get to them out.
Huxley found a feedbag of nuts and dried fruit his family bought to feed the woodpeckers. Huxley put his head deep into the bag and gobbled the woodpecker food. It was delicious. “Are you a woodpecker?” his family asked. “That’s not for you, Huxley.”
When his family forgot to shut the closet door, Huxley explored inside and found piles of shoes. They had funny looking spiky sticks on one end and looked hard to walk on. They were made from leather though and rather tasty. He chewed a red one, a blue one and another that was an odd shade of brown.
“Good thing I don’t wear high heels anymore,” Mom said. “You’re helping me clear the closet, Huxley.”
Layla found him with a canister of oatmeal, the lid chewed off and oatmeal sprinkled all over. “Oh, Huxley,” Layla said. “How did you reach the counter?” 
Huxley’s family went to the store and bought lots of chew toys for him—fancy ones shaped like bones and rubber ones they stuffed with treats. Maybe, just maybe, he would chew on his toys instead of things he wasn’t supposed to chew, like table legs and TV remotes. Huxley enjoyed his new toys, but he was still a puppy and now and then, he still decided to taste something new.
“Oh, Huxley! Not my science homework!”

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Copyright 2017 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be published, distributed or reproduced without permission from the author.
Published December 31, 2017 Biddeford Journal Tribune (Biddeford, ME).

Monday, January 27, 2020

Pumpkin Patch Shortcut

                                Pumpkin Patch Short Cut
                                            By Valerie L. Egar

Inspired by a Bantu folktale
A long time ago, before cars and school buses, country children walked over rolling hills and through woods to one-room schoolhouses. With a long walk, there was always something interesting to see.  A girl might find a shiny stone and put it in her pocket. Walking past a cow pasture, a boy might notice a new calf.  
Most children followed the same path every day, but one day Jonas and Micah decided to take a short cut through Farmer Richardson’s pumpkin patch on their way to school.

            It was autumn and a hint of wood smoke scented the air. Red and yellow leaves flashed in the morning sun, but it was the bright orange pumpkins that attracted the boys. Thick vines curled across the field with large pumpkins waiting to be harvested.
            The boys inspected the pumpkins, imagining which ones would make the best jack o’ lanterns. Jonas pointed to the biggest one, perfectly shaped with bright orange skin. “I’d choose that one.”
           Micah shook his head and pointed to one that was knobby and still a little green. “This one would look scarier.”
            Jonah walked over to the pumpkin to get a better look. He ran his fingers over it. With that, the pumpkin began to move, so slightly the boys thought the sunlight on the pumpkin was playing tricks on them.
            “Did you see that?”
            “I don’t think—” The movement grew stronger. Jonah looked across the field. All of the pumpkins were moving, slowing rolling back and forth.
            The boys started to run. By the time they got to the end of the field, the pumpkins were twisting wildly to free themselves from the vines. As they freed themselves, they careened toward the boys. Jonas and Micah ran as fast as they could, pumpkins bumping along behind them.
            Both thought the same thing as they ran— the pumpkins were enchanted. They’d overheard gossip about Farmer Richardson. No one knew much about him, not where he’d come from or why he’d bought a farm in their little town. He kept to himself. Mistress Barnstable swore she’d seen him wandering in the church graveyard at midnight, but her eyes weren’t good and people didn’t believe her.
            “The river!” Micah shouted with the pumpkins close behind. 
            Jonah and Micah jumped into a small rowboat tied to a dock and rowed to the middle of the river as hundreds of pumpkins splashed into the water and sank. The water churned around them, rocking the boat. 
            The boys waited for the water to calm. An hour passed and the water finally quieted. No more pumpkins appeared at the water's edge.  The boys cautiously rowed to shore.
            They arrived at school two hours late, hair messy, clothes wrinkled. “And where have you been?” demanded the teacher.
            The boys knew that no one would believe their story about the pumpkins. “We took a shortcut and it wasn’t a good idea,” Jonas replied.
            “Shortcuts never are,” the teacher announced to the class. “Both of you will stay after class and write, ‘Shortcuts are lazy. I will not be lazy’ one hundred times.”
            Jonas and Micah had no desire to go anywhere near Farmer Richardson’s pumpkin patch on their way home. They didn’t want to see a pumpkin at all, unless it was in a pie. They heard a few days later that he had mysteriously disappeared.
            “Must have sold all his pumpkins before he left,” their father mused. “Wasn’t even one left in his field.”
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Copyright 2019 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied, distributed or reproduced without permission from the author.
Published September 21, 2019 Biddeford Journal Tribune (Biddeford, ME).


Sunday, January 12, 2020

Mystery Shop

                                      Mystery Shop
                 By Valerie L. Egar
Roselle did not expect to find a small shop on a back street of the dusty desert town. She’d noticed lots of empty storefronts on the main street— certainly those would be a better place for a business, especially in a town that seemed to depend on tourists for business. She wandered down the street only because she glimpsed a white cat. In the afternoon light, the cat might make a good photo and she was ready, camera in hand.

Instead, the cat disappeared and she discovered the shop. Dirty front windows, with an odd assortment of clutter behind them— a ventriloquist’s dummy. Packets of seeds that looked hundreds of years old.  A silver flute, red paisley shawl, old newspapers. Over the door, a hand painted sign said, “Mystery Shop.”  “It’s a mystery all right,” thought Roselle. “How do they stay in business?” She was curious though and opened the door.
A bell hung on the door jangled as she stepped inside and a woman called from a back room. “I’ll be right there!”
Roselle looked around. 

Despite the dust and lack of organization, the store appealed to her. What looked like diaries bound in leather sat on top of an old piano. She picked one up and opened the cover. “This diary belongs to George Washington.”
            George Washington? The first American president?
            Roselle began to read, tracing her fingers over the faded ink and wobbly cursive handwriting.
Today I chopped down Father’s favorite cherry tree. I have a fine new ax and wanted to see how well it worked. Father was angry and asked….
           Roselle shook her head. If the diary was George Washington’s, what was it doing on a shelf in a dusty store? Shouldn’t it be in a museum?
            A woman appeared from the back room. “Ah, the Washington diary. Lovely isn’t it?”
            “Is it real?”
            “Who knows? It’s a mystery, like everything else in here. Have you seen Picasso’s early artwork? I have a few drawings he did when he was 5.”
            Roselle saw a few scribbles signed “Picasso.”  “Why would a 5 year old sign his scribbles?” Roselle asked.
            The woman shrugged. “How old are you?”
            When did you learn to write your name?
            Roselle shrugged. “When I was 4 I think.”
           “So why are you surprised he knew how to write his name? The woman stared at Roselle. “Where are your parents?”
            “Having lunch at the cafĂ©. I wanted to take a walk. They figured I couldn’t get lost, since there are only two streets in town.”
“And here you are at my marvelous store! I knew someone interesting would come by today.”
            Roselle looked at the items displayed in a glass case by the cash register. Broken pottery, a few rocks, photographs.
            “Would you like to see the Egyptian pottery shards?”
            “They look exactly like my Mom’s dishes.”
            “Leaves were a popular pattern on dishes for thousands of years.”
            Roselle pointed to a photo of a man in a toga. “What’s that?”
            “The only known photograph of Emperor Nero.”
            “We learned about him in school. He’s from ancient Rome. They didn’t have cameras thousands of years ago!”
            The woman sniffed. “The ancients were much smarter and more advanced than we think. And look, it even says ‘Nero’ at the bottom.”
            “Maybe he’s an actor in a play?”
            “Then it would say ‘actor’. It would be misleading otherwise.”
            Roselle sighed. The shop and the woman were rather strange. She needed to get back to her parents who were surely finished with their lunch by now, but she
wanted to buy something, anything, to remember her odd visit. She fished in her pocket. “Have you anything for $2?”
            The woman rooted through a pile of old keys. She pulled a rusty one from the group and held it up. “The key to an ancient walled city, ” she whispered. “I don’t know which one, so I can let you have it for $2.”
Roselle smiled and gave the woman her $2. The key looked exactly like the key her grandmother used to lock her antique desk, but it was fun to imagine an unknown city with a gate she could unlock with a rusted key. She tucked it in her pocket and ran to catch up with her parents.
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          Copyright 2019 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied, reproduced or distributed without permission from the author.
                Published Biddeford Journal Tribune,(Biddeford, ME) October 5, 2019.